Detroit – An agreement was reached today and a terminally-ill Ann Arbor woman who was being forced to move from her apartment, after the complex refused to accept her public rent assistance, will be staying in her home after all. The announcement came after a meeting between the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan, the Fair Housing Center of Southeastern Michigan and the Clinical Law Program of the University of Michigan Law School and the Cooperative apartments where she lives.
“Ms Barhyte should never have been put under this stress of fearing that she and her kids would lose their home,” said Michael Steinberg, ACLU of Michigan Legal Director. “It’s unfortunate that the we had to threaten litigation and organize a protest in order to force the Cooperative to do the right thing.”
Laura Barhyte, a 48-year-old mother of two boys, has been a model tenant at University Townhouses Cooperative since 1999. Ms. Barhyte qualified for a government housing voucher after she had to resign from her job with an Ann Arbor school due to her breast cancer and subsequently depleted her savings.
“I definitely want to thank the people who helped me,” said Laura Barhyte. “This has caused a lot of sleepless nights and I’m relieved that my children and I will be able to stay in our home.”
In spite of the legal obligations to accept the voucher as an accommodation of Ms. Barhyte’s disability, the Cooperative Board of Directors voted to reject her section 8 voucher in December, 2004. In January, Ms. Barhyte contacted the Fair Housing Center who then approached the ACLU and the Legal Clinic for assistance.
After a considerable amount of media attention, including TV coverage of a protest to support Ms. Barhyte in front of the apartment complex, newspaper articles and an editorial, the Cooperative attorney began communicating earnestly with the groups.
The Cooperative had initially claimed that the administrative tasks required in accepting the section 8 voucher would be costly and burdensome. The Fair Housing Center actually calculated the actual time involved and found that the forms could be completed in 23 minutes. The Fair Housing Center has also already arranged for the necessary inspection and has paid the $35 fee.
“The Co-op has been fighting Laura’s request for 23 weeks when it would only have taken 23 minutes to fill out the form that would allow her to stay,” said Pam Kisch, Executive Director of the Fair Housing Center of Southeastern Michigan.